For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Tonight I had dinner with my favorite film professor whom I haven’t seen in 16 years. He’s in town on business (the business of seeing Godspell for the second time! Zing!) and seeing him reminded me of two things.

The first thing is this: he used to leave a sign-up sheet on final exam day for anyone who wanted to know his grade ahead of time. You’d take his test and then leave your number. He’d call to let you know your grade, so that you wouldn’t have to sweat it for two weeks, waiting for it to come in the mail. The first time I left my number I came home to a paranoid and accusatory mom.

“A Dr. Wyatt called you about some test results…? Is there something you want to tell us?

I laughed so hard and assured her that I wasn’t pregnant or in any sort of trouble–that the doctor was my teacher and that the test he referred to was my Film Analysis final. Then I explained that if I were to ever make a secret doctor’s office visit, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to give them my parents’ phone number. I got into college! I can at least figure that out.

The second thing is about what happened when I took that final. It is absolutely true.

 

Not Duk Dong

When I was in college I was in at least four classes with this guy Ben* who knew several of my close friends. He lived around the corner from me and he hung out with my roommate from time to time. And yet every time we ran into each other at a party or a show he would introduce himself.

“Hi, I’m Ben.”

At some point I started answering, “Yeah. Dude, I fucking know you.” But it didn’t make any difference. So after a while I just started introducing myself to him, pre-emptively.

Anyway, we were in a film analysis class with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Wyatt. For the final, we watched Slaves of New York and then were given a question about the film that we were to answer in essay form. That was our whole final, and a big part of our grade.

So after the film, before we started writing, Dr. Wyatt allowed us to ask him questions, about the movie, and about the test. All hands went up because it was a final exam and people were taking it pretty seriously.

Ben raises his hand and asks, “I was wondering, is that guy who played the doctor in that one scene – isn’t that the same actor who played Long Duk Dong?”

Dr. Wyatt paused for a second, I assume to consider two things:

  1. Really? That’s what you wanted to ask?
  2. The doctor in Slaves of New York was Indian. Long Duk Dong was not.

So his answer to Ben was, “Um, the Indian guy?”

And Ben said, “Yeah. He played Long Duk Dong, right?”

And Dr. Wyatt says, “The actor you’re thinking of is Asian.”

And Ben still wasn’t getting it. He was like, “It looks like the same guy, right?”

A visibly irritated Dr. Wyatt replied, “No. They’re not the same guy,” and moved on to the next student.

Ben was not convinced. After Dr. Wyatt wrapped up the Q&A session he let us take a bathroom break before beginning the exam. I went out into the hall to stretch my legs and get a drink of water. As I walked back toward the classroom I saw that Ben had Dr. Wyatt cornered by the bathroom door and was pressing him: “You don’t think it was the same guy…?”

A few years later Ben moved to New York and committed suicide.

I don’t know what actually happened, but I like to think that he was on a quest to find the actor that played the doctor in Slaves of New York, and the fact that it was not the same actor who played Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles was too much to bear.

*Not his real name.

 

Lowest common denominator might be an important mathematical concept, but as a human intelligence leveler, it’s kind of gross. Warning labels on products are one thing—if telling a person not to eat bleach is going to save that person’s life, then I guess we need to do that. But do we need to explain EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE as if EVERYONE is a bleach-eater?

For instance, voicemail: how long have we had that? Decades? And before that, we had answering machines. And before that we had secretaries and answering services and post-it notes and “While You Were Out” pads and scraps of paper ripped from a page in the back of the TV Guide (remember when we still read the TV Guide?!) that you could write a name and number on and stick to the refrigerator door with a magnet. Essentially, there are no longer any living humans who know how to use a telephone but are also at a loss for what to do when there’s no answer.

So how come we have to wait for some computer asshole to explain it, step-by-step, EVERY TIME?

The person you are trying to reach is not available to answer the call.

Yeah, I know, lady. Zip it and get to the beep, already.

Please leave a message after the tone…

Who still needs this? As a people, we’re on top of this, right? I mean, we’re not afraid someone might panic and hurt themselves, like, “Oh, shit! I think Andy’s dead! His phone just rings and rings, and then nothing! Do you think something terrible has happened?! OR, what if this is all a dream? WHAT IF I’M THE DEAD ONE??! Someone help! AN-DEEEEEEE!!!”

When you are finished with your message, hang up…

Are you fucking kidding me?

Or press 1 for more options…

Really? How many more options do I need? I mean, it’s the twenty-first-fucking-century, man. We’ve got pretty much all of our bases covered. Dogs and monkeys have flown to the moon. Women give birth to fourteen babies at a time. We’ve got text, email, and GPS tracking with us everywhere we go, always! What fucking MORE OPTIONS could you possibly offer me? Text my phone number? Why?! So we can pretend we have BEEPERS? No, thanks. I’m all set.

I’m just saying, no one is going to die from not knowing how voicemail works.

You know what else isn’t hard to figure out? Eating food. And yet, we’re still explaining it to folks. I once had a copywriting assignment for a 3” sticker, explaining that a particular sandwich was microwavable. But they didn’t just want a simple “Heat me!” blurb.

We need it to specifically tell them to use the microwave.

As opposed to just holding it up to the sun?

We need something that literally tells them to take the sandwich TO the microwave, put it inside, heat it, then eat it.

Because they may see the sandwich, the microwave, the sticker that says “Microwave me!” and still be confused?

Exactly.

Seriously? Is there someone alive who thinks, “I’ll just throw this sandwich in the general direction of that heat-box and it’ll warm itself up. Wait, what? I have to physically move from here to the counter? Using my arms and legs?!! I have to put it INSIDE the oven to heat it? This is SO confusing! If only there was a User’s Manual or a diagram or something. What am I, some sort of Einstein over here? I don’t have a degree in physics! I don’t know how heat works! I thought maybe I could just pick the microwave up, bring it over to this aisle and SHOW IT to my sandwich—just threaten the shit out of my food until it gets hot. Why can’t I do that? I thought this was a CONVENIENCE store!!!!”

To answer my own question, no—there is no one alive who thinks that. And if someone really is that stupid, DOES HE EVEN DESERVE TO EAT OUR FOOD? I mean, shouldn’t we conserve resources for someone who can convert that food into productive energy? Why am I creating the Encyclopedia of Heating a Sandwich over here, when this goober is wasting oxygen, willy-nilly? I can’t figure the math on how a person that needs to be told to walk over to a microwave in order to use it isn’t too dumb to figure out chewing and swallowing without explicit instructions.

Oh, that’s probably a good idea. Do you think we could fit that on the sticker?

Look, I’ve worked retail—I know people, in general, can be extra lazy and stupid when they want to be. But pandering to that absence of brainpower is such a chore. Imagine if we just DIDN’T DO THAT. Imagine if we forced people to pick up the pace and evolve, already. I’m willing to bet that phone calls would somehow still be returned, that sandwiches would still be warmed, and that shows like According to Jim would never, ever get aired. If we spent less time explaining how shampoo and airplane seat belts work we’d have more time for napping and not watching reruns of According to Jim. If we could just all agree that wet bridges are slippery, that black socks shouldn’t be washed with white shirts, that we won’t leave poop where we walk and that Jim Belushi is terrible, we would have so much more time at our disposal—time to solve real problems like hunger and the deficit and where to bury Jim Belushi’s murdered corpse.

Maybe it’s unfair for me to discriminate against those who are not as quick, but it’s not like I’m especially gifted. Even at my stupidest, I’ve never once needed to be told how to cook canned peas (TAKE THEM OUT OF THE CAN FIRST, I’M PRETTY SURE). Dummies have a whole series of books (haha! books!) dedicated to their needs. Let’s stop giving them EVERYTHING.

Instead, let’s take back Dummy Territory and replace it with some information that’s actually helpful. Like, instead of heating instructions, that sandwich sticker could just say, “RETHINK BANGS (it may not be the best look for you).” Maybe instead of “Wash with like colors,” that tag on your shirt could explain the benefits of a Money Market savings account. Or perhaps that lady voicemail robot could warn you that “Greg is going to tell EVERYONE how far you let him get tonight.”

You know, real useful shit.

It’s just a suggestion. I’m happy to discuss it further if you want to give me a call. If I don’t answer, you know what to do (tell Greg to keep his fucking mouth shut).

Have you ever hated anybody? I mean, really, as an adult, HATED someone? And I don’t mean a politician or a celebrity, or whatever Paris Hilton is now. I mean a person you know and see on a regular basis. Because I’ve been angry with people—temporary hateful—but it took me a really long time to straight up hate a bitch, with conviction.

Hate is a lot of work. And I am emotionally lazy.

Most of the time, I can’t be bothered. But I hated this housemate I had in college. And I don’t think of her often, but when I do think of her, I still think she is the worst. I actively hate her. Still. Like, I would be okay with it if she got hit by a bus right now. I don’t want to identify her by name (in case a bus ever does hit her, Officer), so let’s just call her Fuckface.

Because fuck her. In the face.

Fuckface and my best friend leased the second story of a house near campus the summer after our Sophomore year. But Fuckface wasn’t able to move in until the Fall, and didn’t want to pay the summer rent (understandable, I guess). So she asked my friend to find someone to move in and pay rent for three months and then move out again (less understandable, I think).

I agreed to do it—mostly so that my friend wouldn’t get screwed on the rent. I packed and moved my shit twice that summer, in order to hold that room for Fuckface. (You’re welcome, Fuckface.)

Then she moved in. And I moved to the first floor. And she became a fuckface.

She started by being a secret bitch, for my eyes only. Subsequently, I would not invite her to join us for social-fun-times. I thought she hated me. (Stay home, Fuckface!)

Then when I wasn’t around, Fuckface would tell my friend/her roommate that I hurt her feelings by excluding her. My friend would say, “Oh, Darci, you should try to be nicer to [Fuckface].”  So I would be nicer. And Fuckface would be an even bigger bitch to me as soon as my friend left the room.

Finally, my friend caught Fuckface acting like Captain Asshole after I invited her to go to the movies with us. My friend stopped asking me to be nice. (Ya burnt, Fuckface!)

Yes, Fuckface was messy and inconsiderate and all the things I imagine we’ve all experienced to some degree with roommates, especially in our early 20s. But she was a special kind of asshole in that she was completely shameless about it. I’ve known people to commit bigger social crimes, but they at least have the decency to feel guilty. And the things that would upset her were ridiculous. She and I lived in separate apartments on two different floors and I would get calls like:

“Um, I can just tell that your TV is on. Could you keep it down?”

“Umm, I can hear you guys whispering. Maybe you could talk tomorrow?”

“Ummmm, I can hear your heart beating. Can you slow it down a notch? I’m trying to take a nap.”

I’m only slightly exaggerating. Fuckface expected us to stop cooking spaghetti because she didn’t like the way sauce looks when it simmers. But her sensitivity only applied to things the rest of us did. She felt free to make as much noise as she wanted, stink up the house with her weird pets, drink our beer, break our stuff and insult our guests.

And OH GOD, was she cheap. I mean, we were all broke, scraping by with shitty jobs. It’s college. I get it. But Fuckface (whose parents paid for her tuition and rent) was just obnoxiously cheap. No sharing. No hospitality. But also, no hesitation in accepting the generosity of others. She’d ask you for a favor, you’d help her out of a jam, and an hour later she’d make you give her a quarter before agreeing to split a can of Coke.

True story: For weeks, she asked every person who came over for an egg.

“Hey, umm… Do you have an egg? I have this brownie mix but it requires an egg and I don’t have an egg. And I don’t want to buy a whole dozen if I just need one egg. So I thought maybe you had an egg I could have. Oh, I mean, sure—of course you don’t have it with you. But do you have one at home? I mean, haha, right?! But also, you should go home and get an egg and bring it over and then we can make these brownies.”

I’m serious. That actually happened. FOR A MONTH.

I mean, I GUESS it makes sense to ask ME for an egg. It makes sense because I lived downstairs, and that is where I kept my groceries, which is what eggs are (unless you are a chicken). If I had an egg to give to Fuckface, and if I didn’t spend every waking moment wishing she would grow a foot out of her forehead that would kick her in her stupid face forever, then it seems like a reasonable request, and not much of an imposition for me to run downstairs and bring back an egg. ONE TIME, that question makes sense. Twelve times is excessive. To ask every day was rude and weird. And to ask our other friends (who did NOT live downstairs) to go home and bring back an egg was just insane. (You crazy, Fuckface!)

Even more kookoo-bananas was the fact that Fuckface had a part-time job at a grocery store, giving her both 24-hour access to eggs and the funds with which to buy eggs (sold by the half dozen for about 40 cents).  I pointed this out once and Fuckface said (while making the bitchiest face) that it wasn’t fair for her to have to pay for 5 extra eggs. (Life’s a bitch, Fuckface.)

If I ever have a time-traveling cat, I will make him take me back to the last time Fuckface asked me for an egg. I will bring her twelve dozen Grade A extra-larges and make her watch as I break every last one of those sons of bitches into the garbage can.

Then I will set that garbage can on fire.

Then I will bake those motherfucking brownies, Vegan-style with a banana-as-egg substitute. Then I will throw the brownies into a different garbage can and set that garbage can on fire.

Then my time-traveling cat will bring me back to the present and we will high-five each other until one of us passes out.

TIME CAT!

After a few months of living with Fuckface’s weird demands, her stomping around, and her general bitchfaceness, I stopped being polite and started getting real. I officially banned her from the first floor. Then a few weeks later, just because Fuckface extra-deserved it, my roommate double-banned her from the first floor.

Hating her may have started as a single player game, but it soon became a team sport. Floor One was off limits and Floor Two’s other occupant wasn’t exactly starting a Fuckface fan club. I’m reasonably sure that if our house had a third floor, Fuckface would not have been welcome there, either. (Not on my watch, Fuckface!)

But it didn’t make any difference to Fuckface. It didn’t bother her that she lived with three people who wanted to push her down the stairs. She had no shame, and she was impervious to hints, sarcastic remarks, stink-eyes and other passive-aggressive tortures. We knew she wouldn’t consider moving out. The rent was so cheap and the house was so close to campus—she’d never find anything better, or anyone else to live with her.

We were stuck with Fuckface, and her stinky pets, and her shitty moods and her, “You should pay more of the phone bill, because the phone sits closer to your room, so I have to walk farther to use it” negotiations. We had given up any hope of getting rid of her before graduation. But then a funny thing happened, and suddenly, we were saved.

We were saved by the band Portishead.

(I know! I was also surprised.)

My roommate came home one day and started playing the then-new Portishead album, Dummy. She put the song “Sour Times” on repeat, and then zoned out, doing her homework or whatever. It wasn’t blaring at full volume, but our house was old and the walls were thin, so it was easy for any noise to travel from one floor to the other.

Fuckface started to twitch, not because the music was too loud, but because she was tired of hearing that song. She asked her roommate to call and ask us to put on a different CD. Her roommate/my friend refused to tell someone what music to not listen to in the privacy of her own home, even if that someone wanted to listen to a dopey Portishead song over and over again, and suggested that Fuckface just turn on the TV or her own radio. But that did not seem to be a viable solution to Fuckface.

Instead, Fuckface threw a tantrum. She started throwing shit on the floor and at the walls, making enough of a racket to make me think something terrible was happening. I phoned upstairs to see if the terrible something was at least happening to her.

Me: “Hey, is everything okay up there?”
FF: “Ummmm… I’m just throwing a ball around my room to try to relieve some stress.”
Me: “You’re doing what?”
FF: “I’m throwing a ball.”
Me: “What KIND of ball?!”
FF: “I said I’m STRESSED. I’m tired of hearing that song your roommate keeps playing over and over.”
Me: “Yeah, me, too. So I put some headphones on. Problem solved. Were you just stomping around up there?”
FF: “I had to make myself feel better.”
Me: “Pictures were falling down off our walls, [Fuckface]. “
FF: “Sorrrr-yyyyyy. But I had to do something.”
Me: “Of course you did.”

I hung up the phone, livid, and determined to be done with this bullshit, once and for all. I gave my roommate a quick synopsis of my phone conversation with Fuckface and then very dramatically proclaimed,

“FOR AS LONG AS THAT BITCH LIVES IN THIS HOUSE, THAT SONG WILL BE PLAYING ON THAT STEREO. ALL DAY. ALL NIGHT. WHILE WE SLEEP. WHILE WE STUDY. 24 HOURS A DAY, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK, THAT SONG WILL PLAY IN THIS HOUSE FOR AS LONG AS SHE LIVES UPSTAIRS.”

It took a few days for Fuckface to tell us she was moving out, but we kept playing “Sour Times” for another week until she was actually gone. We would leave the house for hours—sometimes all night—with the CD on repeat and the doors locked. Once, we saw Fuckface leave for school so we turned the music off. But then she came back inside to get her jacket and we turned it right back on. She screamed, “I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!” from the other side of the door, but we just turned up the volume and laughed. When she moved, she assured us she had her own reasons for leaving, and that they were totally unrelated to the nonstop Portishead mindfuck coming from downstairs. (We believe you, Fuckface!)

I only saw her once after that, at a New Year’s Eve party. I was living in New York by then, but had come home for the holidays. When I moved away, I gave a bunch of furniture to my friend, Chris—the same friend who was throwing the party. Fuckface was there, and we managed to avoid one another for a while, but then I saw her sitting on my old sofa. I immediately ran to Chris and explained the rules: Fuckface had been banned from my apartment, and the banishment applied to the furniture of the apartment, even after the furniture left the apartment.

“You want me to tell her she can’t sit on the couch?”

I wanted him to tell her a lot of things, beginning with “You can’t sit on the couch,” and ending with facepunch. But before I could answer him, Fuckface stood up and left the party.

The DJ had finally gotten to my request for “Sour Times”.